neWMW

Posts Tagged ‘Creative Writing

Nurturing and death in Web 2.0

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I thought I’d just try it, see what happens to myself when I don’t post for a while. Although it isn’t that interesting for the readers of a blog, you should definitely try it. Because when a blog becomes a McLuhanesque fixed charge in your life, the only way to see what has changed is to disconnect from it. As you can see, it didn’t last that long before I just couldn’t resist to get back to my blog and write down my thoughts and experiences in this post.

Jean-François Berthet made an entry about blogs being like a Tamagotchi on his 365questions.org blog. You name your blog, you shape its form, you could perhaps say you are making a reflection of yourself. Even more than on social networking sites, where the emphasis is more on presentation to your friends. It a reflection of yourself. The sight of a your poor blog with its last message a month ago is almost a heartbreaking experience. In your mind you’re constantly making excuses to the blog like: ‘I’ll post tomorrow’, ‘Sorry blog, I have a writersblock!’ ‘No post today blog, I’m busy.’

This reflection, also on social networking sites, will some day stop. Although a macaber thought, it will surely stop on the day you die. Recent examples are the Myspace profiles of the people killed at Virginia tech, a list containing most of their Myspace profiles can be found at The West Virginia Blogger. A recent example closer to my home is the Hyves page of Gerd-Nan van Wijk, who got beaten and died when leaving his school in Alkmaar. The reflection once created as an enviroment to be nurtured, is now freeze-framed in time. Like a watch that stopped ticking, the virtual spaces stopped moving only leaving the traces of (virtual) friends sending you condolences.

But how about when I stop blogging? Could that be the infamous Death of the Blogger? When the blogger gives up on the blog, is it the blog that dies? And when a blogger dies, is it the blog that lives on, providing a virtual space for condoleances? Could we say that firstly when the blogger dies, the audience adresses the blog. And secondly that when the blog dies, the audience adresses the blogger.

The question we can indirectly ask here is: Who are you blogging for? Perhaps not specifically an imagined audience, perhaps not even yourself but the technology you gave a character. An external agent you set up as a medium between yourself an your imagined audience. An agent that will survive your day and will exist as an in memoriam, but still not being yourself. This also brings me to another question that has been keeping me busy since I started blogging: How long will data stay?

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Written by newmw

May 8, 2007 at 11:10 am

Research blogging do’s and don’ts

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I’ve been thinking a bit what to publish about my research on my weblog, and went to search for other examples of research blogs to give me some guidelines.

I stumbled upon this website by Jill Walker who has written a valuable paper on blog usage and research together with Torill Mortensen. A very good read for anyone who is in doubt on what to blog and what not to. The following quote presents an interesting view:

“Blogs exist right on this border between what’s private and what’s public, and often we see that they disappear deep into the private sphere and reveal far too much information about the writer. When a blog is good, it contains a tension between the two spheres…”

The paper by Walker and Mortensen can be downloaded from the website, or directly from here: Jill Walker and Torill Mortensen, Blogging Thoughts: Personal Publication as an Online Research Tool (February 2002, PDF).

Written by newmw

October 25, 2006 at 12:10 am

Writely frustrations… and ideas

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In the Masters of Media class we’ve been trying out Writely.com for a couple of assignments in the past weeks. Not so long ago the online word processor was acquired by Google. The idea is very promising: “Share documents instantly & collaborate in realtime.” So we decided to take it for a test-drive, but so far all attempts have failed to create one united, democratic post. Here is my view on why the Web 2.0 application falls short on the collaborative aspects, and causes more frustration than collaboration.

wrlogo

Two cases
First let me start by saying that our group with eight people might be larger than the average Writely collaboration. The first thing we tried to do was set up a few guidelines, or top ten rules, for cooperation on Writely. By using various colors we distinguished ourselves and things seemed to go fluently in the classroom. But when I got back home and got back to the Writely document I was hesitating if I could for example edit, or maybe delete text that was added to my entry. In short: I needed to discuss it instantly.

The second try also suffered from the above problem, but in kind of a different way. We’re now in the proces of -or at least trying to- creating a combined (blog)post on the infamous Shocklogs. There was some writing already in the document and I added some lines, but the main problem with this was that we couldn’t decide anyhing about the form of the document because -again- there was no way to discuss the subject directly. Of course you can use the document like a chatbox, but that messes up your whole layout and with more than two people you get quite a chaotic document.

What would be very useful is a small Writely chatbox so you can chat with your collaborators directly. An instant messaging option would make the program a lot better for use in bigger groups. Or why not a “you decide” button which let’s Writely juggle the text by itself, whatever gets the job done! This second solution might sound a bit over-the-top, but I could imagine an option that lets you put different colors of text together automatically. Or one document which could use a multitude of tabs, one for discussion and one for the actual document. Just some ideas.

Can it be that we are the problem? That we need a more organized approach? Maybe, but the lack of specific collaborative options makes it very hard to actually complete a document with a lot of people. And yes… I do know it’s beta…

Written by newmw

October 9, 2006 at 11:48 pm

Façade: Interactive storytelling on a whole new level

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Façade is a one-act interactive drama according to it’s makers Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern, and what that is exactly? I can tell you it’s a whole new experience in computer gaming, if it can even be called gaming. It’s more like a digital play you are a part of, and above all it is something you have to try for yourself to see what I mean. You can get the free Façade game from the developer website InteractiveStory.net.

I’ll give you a short introduction, but I’m not spoiling anything that would ruin the fun of playing it the first time. When you begin the game you are invited by Trip and Grace to come over to their house for a cosy get together. The drama starts as soon as you get to their apartment where you are welcomed by the couple. It seems their marriage has some cracks and holes and they aren’t affraid to discuss ’em in front of you.

The interface is simple, you can walk around the appartment, interact with some of the objects and type almost anything (as long as it is related). Especially the communication in Façade is great, you can interrupt the couple, ask them about things, choose sides, etc. And all that in normal sentences, and in a way you would normally respond in a conversation yourself. It’s feels a lot more natural than your average RPG interface with only so few options.

For some more indepth information and very interesting reading from the makers, check out the press page at InteractiveStory.net for papers, articles and a lot more and their vision and motivation

This game also won the 2006 Grand Jury Prize at the Slamdance Independent Games Festival. And at the end of the play, you can also look at the stageplay you just created. Need I say more? Just as an example here is a small part of the (words-only) stageplay from my second time playing the drama. I’m ‘Ben’:

GRACE
Hi! How are you? Oh god it’s been such a long time! — (interrupted)
BEN
Hi grace

GRACE
H-mmm (happy smile sound)
BEN
How are you?
GRACE
Good! Yes! Very good. Some exciting things at work I’ll have to tell you about.
GRACE
So come on in, make yourself at home!
BEN
What happened at work?
TRIP
Oh yeah, let me tell you about work. I just brought in a new account – print ads for a line of bridal fashion.
(BEN sits on the couch.)

Become a gamewriter

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One of the new creative professions which is gaining space on the IT career market is gamewriting. And no, I don’t mean the programming of the game but the storytelling. Books like Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace by Janet Murray offer a good view on how to tell stories through games and other digital ways, and to use every possibility of the new medium to its fullest. But how to become a gamewriter? How do you tell a story in a game, and what are the qualifications you need for the job.

Below I’ve constructed a list/guide that sums up a couple of important points on gamewriting with some quotes from gamewriters Sam Lake (Max Payne), Sheldon Pacotti (DeusEX) and David Cage (Indigo Prophecy). By the way, don’t forget to check Sam Lake’s photo, looks a lot like Payne huh? This is not the ultimate list, it’s a start if you’re interested. I don’t offer a quick 4 step plan to instant fame, because fame is 0% luck and 100% hard work. Check the further reading links below for some very good articles and interviews on the subject.

Play and play again
If you want to write stories for games, see how people before you have already done it. And don’t start with just the new games; check out how games have developed over the years. A very good game to start with is Another World , which is a game by Eric Chahi who later did Heart of Darkness. Definitely an early visionary in gaming history. But the Max Payne and DeusEX series also have some amazing storytelling. Just play games you like (a lot) and unravel the way the story was implemented in the game (or vice versa!). After that you can make a start with your own script.

Write
You have to love writing because simply put storytelling is still lots of writing. Whatever medium you’ll use. An average script for a game is bigger than your average movie script, mainly because every character you come across needs convincing dialogue. To get an idea check out a part of the script for Max Payne 2. And according to David Cage the script for Indigo Prophecy was about 2000 pages of writing. As a valuable tip for the story he also mentions the creation of empathy, because the player needs to identify with the protagonist, really be it. And don’t forget that you try to write a believable story, even if the main character in the game has multiple lives, which sounds of course absurd in a normal book. Try to play with the options games open up in storytelling.

So you’ve written your first script? If you have, let every friend you have read it and comment it. No matter how strange or personal you think your ideas are, let them read it because they are also your audience. If you’re satisfied enough send it to a professional and let him/her have a go at it, untill you are sure you have gold in your hand and the people who read it agree with you. Make sure you ask people who are objective and have some skill in writing themselves.

Translate it to a game
After this you might want to get in touch with people who are working on (for example) in their spare time. Gather people around you who share your enthusiasm and dedication. A game can be a one man job, but nowadays that is almost impossible: making a game, unlike writing, is becoming more and more a team effort. Still driven sometimes by the vision of one man. They like working with a good story and since beginning gamemakers often do this in their sparetime, you’re often a welcome addition to such a group. If you don’t have a programming background this is also a way of getting to know the programmes used to create the enviroment. If you can’t find the right people, there are also programmes to create text-adventures like the Text Adventure Development System (TADS). Which can give you an insight in the paradigmatic nature of videogamewriting. You need to write out every option, literally.

How to translate your script to a game so everyone knows what you mean? Sam Lake has a very usefull tip for this: “Actually, early on in the development of Max Payne, I was drawing maps of the levels on paper as well. I’m glad we got past that quickly.” It’s good to make leveldrawings from your original script. Make overview maps and if you’re a good enough artist maybe even POV shots.

There are a couple of things that can immerse a player into the game, and a couple that can distract him/her. Sheldon Pacotti for example reacts on the basic idea of pacing: “[…] the more you can slice up story delivery into the gameplay, the better off you are. The opening of Max Payne II, for instance, has a great feeling of narrative movement because of the numerous quick cut-scenes rather than long story-dumps.” Another valuable hint, when using first person perspectives, is that you shouldn’t just randomly switch between 1st and 3rd person perspective, this causes the gamer to break with the main protagonist.

David Cage made a great remark about the combination of narrative and the development of games: “One of the key points in Indigo Prophecy was the idea of getting interactivity and narration to work together. Most games oppose these two concepts or rather, they develop them in turn: a cut scene to advance the narration, then an action scene, then another cut scene for the narration. The structure of this narrative process is very close to that of porn movies.” David Cage is famous for his original and fresh view on videogames, just play his games Indigo Prophecy and Omikron: The Nomad Soul which really bear the mark of Cage as a director and a man with a vision.

Pacotti also shares this vision in a certain way: “I have a strong interest in taking all of the window dressing of games (visual storytelling, character, dialogue, etc.) and bringing it in closer to the gameplay. So that a game can be a truly cinematic experience, and still be a game.” Use this to your advantage when you are working with your group on a game. This seems to be the turn innovative storywriting in games is taking according to the cream of the crop. Storytelling in games not just as window dressing but as an essential cog in the gamedevelopment machineworks. Watch this example from DeusEX for an interesting example, the story sets the demands and motivations for a player.

Get in the business
There are many ways to get into the computergame industry, but all involve hard work and getting your ideas out there. David Cage started out as a musicproducer, Sheldon Pacotti spent a lot of time as programmer in the game industry and Sam Lake was a writer and got asked by his friend Petri Järvilehto at Remedy. People with storywriting talents are needed, as David Perry from Shiny Entertainment also acknowledges in an article by Paul Hyman: “For me, writing is like gold. […] It saddens me a lot that many video game companies don’t hire triple-A writers and that they use their game designers instead. That’s why, when real writers look at video game stories, they kind of roll their eyes. But that’s something that I see changing, I really do.” To get a good view of how things can work in a developement sphere read this interview with David Cage about his Quantic Dream studio: Postmortem Indigo Prophecy.

While all the writers mentioned work with a company, many gamescripts are also done by outsource scripting agencies. This is different for every country though, so make a list of the most important scripting agencies, who also work with videogamestudios, and contact them if you’re convinced that you have that golden script in your hand. You need to have knowledge of the industry and send your work out into the world. This is all after you have the recognition from people close to you. Don’t send mass mails though, keep the contact on a personal level and show your involvement and dedication! For more info on this check the How do you become a gamewriter page at the International Game Developers Association webpage. If you want to know what the part of a gamewriter can be in the game development process also check IGDA’s What is a gamewriter? page.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, there’s lots more to learn on gamewriters and gamewriting. A big thanks to the following websites for their inspiring articles and interviews. For more info I really recommend that you read the full articles on these websites. Great reads on the subject! I’ll update this list as I come across more articles on this subject.

Further reading
How do you become a gamewriter? by IGDA from igda.org
Postmortem Indigo Prophecy by David Cage from gamasutra.com
Reminescing Deus Ex with Sheldon Pacotti by Jonathan S. from evilavatar.com
Sam Lake: On videogame storytelling by Andrey Summers from jivemagazine.com
Video games’ write stuff by Paul Hyman from hollywoodreporter.com
What is a gamewriter? by IGDA from igda.org